How to Start an Online Health Store in South Africa

How to Start an Online Health Store in South Africa

Food and personal care (aka health) products take 6th place as the largest online sector in South Africa. Faithful to Nature is a South African online store selling natural health products, and it comes in as South Africa’s 12th most profitable e-commerce store, with global net sales of $2.1 million. With these figures, it’s safe to say there’s a demand for health products in South Africa, and that finding is consistent with the global demand where health products are a $4.2 trillion industry.

As you can see, there is still a piece of the pie up for the taking. In fact, there couldn’t be a better time to build a lucrative online health store in South Africa. 

South Africans are Ready for Digital Adoption

Typically, South Africans have lagged behind in online consumerism, but the recent Covid pandemic pushed reluctant South Africans towards rapid digital adoption and online sales soared by 66%

If you’re wanting to start an online health store in South Africa, now’s the time to do it.

Having said that, don’t think success will be a walk in the park, because competition in the health sector is fierce. Although Faithful to Nature’s online health store is one of the top e-commerce stores in South Africa, it did start small, and all the way back in 2006. 

It will still take determination and perseverance to succeed, but the time is ripe for the picking.

What’s Needed to Succeed

To succeed as an online entrepreneur in South Africa, you’ll need determination and persistence, because if you are like the majority of startups, it’s going to be slow before it takes off.

Let’s just admit it: if it was easy, everyone would be doing it. So first and foremost, decide to keep going, no matter what. Be realistic, but keep going. Slow progress is still progress.

What else do you need? Well, in South Africa specifically, you’ll need the right tools because pick the wrong one, and you may get stuck halfway through. 

Here’s where tools can prove difficult on this side of the continent: software developed by South Africans tends to be a lot more expensive than those built in other parts of the world, such as the UK or US, and 9 out of 10 times, they lack the same sophistication. 

At the same time, if you as a South African use software from other countries, it is often difficult to integrate with the South African software that is critical, such as payment gateways.

As a result, it can be harder to set up an online store in this country, especially if you plan to do it yourself.

In order to circumvent this, Shopstar offers the tools needed for South Africans to start an online health store in South Africa and grow it. Best of all, you won’t need to rob a bank to afford it.

Shopstar enables entrepreneurs to conveniently and hassle-free:

  • Create a website using drag and drop blocks
  • Build landing pages also with drag and drop blocks
  • Publish blog posts for SEO (Search Engine Optimisation)
  • List products and get paid
  • Monitor insights
  • Pay for professional services at a fraction of the usual cost (e.g. graphic design, copywriting, digital advertising experts, etc.)

The beauty about Shopstar is that it offers tools you would usually need to pay for additionally, such as a landing page builder, and the prices are less than what you would pay for overseas platforms of the same calibre.

Here’s another thing: what many South African entrepreneurs don’t realise is that you can build a beautiful website, but it can still be ineffective. For example, if your website doesn’t explain how you can help a visitor within a few seconds, that visitor will simply click off. 

To make your website as effective as possible, you may need to hire a graphic designer or copywriter. Over and above the Shopstar platform, it offers additional professional resources at a much lower price.

Steps to Start an Online Health Store in South Africa

Although the numbers prove that there is a demand for online health stores in South Africa, don’t expect to make your first sale immediately. As long as you understand that it’s going to take time, you can keep moving forward and working on your business every day.

Consistency wins the game.

Here are the steps to start an online health store in South Africa:

Step #1: Research & Plan

Before you build a website, you’ll need a plan that details your goals. It doesn’t have to be fancy - just a document you can refer back to for clarity.

Start with your mission: what do you want to do? What is your end goal? How will you achieve it? What are the steps you will take to get there?

It is at this point that you should narrow down your niche - who exactly do you wish to serve, and what is the problem you want to solve for them? To help you decide, these are some of the highest-selling niches in the health market today:

  • Digestion
  • Diet / weight loss
  • Anti-aging
  • Diabetes
  • Arthritis
  • Skincare
  • Fatigue
  • Hair loss

At this stage, you’ll also need to consider a business model; what your business will do to make a profit. Here are some ideas:

  • Subscription-based - customers pay a recurring amount for a product or service. Nurish by Nature Made is an online health store that is based on this model, to provide personalised daily vitamin packs.
  • Product to service - customers purchase a result instead of equipment.
  • One for one - for every sale you make, you donate one of the goods to a charity. An example of this is Bombas, a sock, t-shirt and undies company that gives one for one: buy one of their products and a homeless person gets the same product free of charge.
  • Dropshipping - this model means you don’t have to keep stock of products, but instead, the products are purchased from a supplier who delivers the goods directly to your customer. Check out Shopstar’s dropshipping marketplace for options in South Africa.

Step #2: Develop a Marketing Strategy

Out of the steps listed here, your marketing strategy is the one that will make or break the success of your online health store.

So if we talk about starting an online health store in South Africa, then it is absolutely essential that we speak most about marketing.


The first piece of advice? Be true to yourself. When you’re true to yourself first, you will create a brand that remains true to its core values, resulting in a strong and consistent marketing message.

Avoid doing what you feel you must do because that’s “what works”. 

Make no mistake; authenticity is not about fluffy “feelings” - if you are not authentic in your marketing by being true to your core values as a human being, your audience picks it up unconsciously, and they will back away, sensing inauthenticity, and losing trust due to the misalignment of your message.

Authentic marketing is what will differentiate you from your competitors, and in a tough niche such as health, you will need to stand out.


When you’re clear on the foundations of your business, then you must create a buyer persona

Example of a buyer persona

A buyer persona gives you a precise view of your ideal audience when developing marketing messages, because in the health niche especially where the competition is overcrowded, you have to be really clear, or your messages will get lost.

Organic Marketing Strategies

Organic marketing strategies focus on the long-term and require a well-thought-out strategy with consistent action. For long-term sustainability, organic traffic is a must, but you’ve also got to know it’s not a quick-fix. 

Organic marketing methods, such as content marketing, don’t involve additional expense, but you will need a marketing team, or at the very least, a good copywriter to write blog posts.

Getting the right traffic to your website via search engines is not going to happen overnight. 

How to increase visitors? Well firstly, it starts with the wording on your website, because the goal is not to attract all and sundry. You only want the people who are looking for the solutions your site provides, and it is these people you need to set up your website around. 

But there’s more…not only do you want to attract the right audience, but you also want them to take action, and not click away to your competitors. 

To this effect, whether you decide to create your own website with DIY copywriting, or whether you hire someone to do it for you, you’ll have to do some homework about creating high-converting websites and content marketing strategies that increase traffic.

You should know that right now in South Africa, most online health stores are lagging behind in content marketing, so adding this strategy into your marketing mix will give you a decided advantage. But do it soon before others cotton on!

Tip! Write unique and original product descriptions; don’t just copy and paste those of the manufacturer. This will give your website an SEO boost.

Something else that is important: make sure that every page on your site includes some kind of call to action so that you can build your contacts for an email marketing strategy. 

Why do you need an email marketing strategy? Well, the hard truth is that people will hardly ever buy from you the first time they land on your site, so email marketing is what you’ll use to collect email addresses of prospective customers, and then work to build trust over time. 

The goal of email marketing is to build trust so that the person will eventually buy from you. If you’re not a good writer, you’ll probably need to hire someone to do it for you.

Tip! When sourcing an email marketing platform, first check that they will allow you to email health content, because some content from specific niches within the health niche (such as weight loss) are not allowed by certain providers. 

When you first get started with marketing, the best solution is to first set up paid marketing strategies, and combine them with organic marketing strategies - paid advertising will bring in traffic while you slowly build up organic marketing.

Paid Marketing Strategies

Paid marketing strategies can have instant results, but the tricky part is getting them done right so that they can be effective. If you do them yourself, chances are you are going to waste money on little to no results.

Paid adverts need expertise, and if you don’t have the skills, it is likely you will have to go through a deep learning curve before you see minimal results. Consider expert help with this - if you build a Shopstar website, you can get expert help at a fraction of the normal cost, on paid ads for social media and search engine advertising.

Step #3: Setup Your Store

There are quite a number of options for setting up your online store, and we’ll go through the pros and cons of each of them:

Option 1: e-Commerce platform

With this option, you’ll pay a fee to build a website on an e-commerce platform that hosts your site. The platform simplifies things so that even a total beginner can create a nice looking website.

The key benefit with an e-commerce platform is that you can build your site yourself; it’s so easy that there is no learning curve. It is quick and simple; convenience at its best. 

In addition, everything is already optimised for search engines, and payment processes are streamlined which is critical; long processes on the customer’s side means more abandoned shopping carts.

With an e-commerce platform, there is no struggle about getting this and that to integrate so that everything flows smoothly.

An example of an e-commerce platform is Shopstar, and because it’s made for South Africa, offers everything you’ll need to successfully sell health products online. It’s an excellent way to get started.

Shopstar dashboard

For this option, you will only need to buy a domain name, but you can first set up the website without one. A domain name is important for credibility.

Example of a domain name:

Option 2: WordPress

If you’ve never built a website on WordPress, it will take a steep learning curve before you can master this option.

Many entrepreneurs start their websites on a platform such as Shopstart and once they are more established, move them over to WordPress when they can afford a third party to manage it for them.

The key benefit of WordPress is that you can find plugins to make your website behave any way you like. But it’s not going to be a fast process. Even those with WordPress experience often opt for an e-commerce platform just because it is a much simpler way to build an attractive website.

To use WordPress, you will need to pay for a host (a host holds the files and technologies for a website to sit on the internet) and a domain name.

WordPress dashboard

Option 3: Online website builder

The third option is much like using an e-commerce platform, with the main difference being an e-commerce platform is built to sell products while an online website builder such as Wix is for building general websites.

It can be used for e-commerce, but it’s always best to stick with a website builder that is specially built for your business model.

An online website builder is also easy and convenient to use, and allows you to build your website yourself. It looks professional, no matter how in-experienced you are.

Wix dashboard

Finishing Up

With more and more South Africans taking to digital shopping, now is a great time to start an online health store.

And it needn’t be difficult…

There are easier ways to get going online, and if you don’t relish long learning curves, it makes sense to utilise resources that simplify that which can often prove complex, especially for a South African online business.

Why not give Shopstar a try? You can test it out free for 14 days, no credit card needed. 

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